Customer service needs to be a priority in health care

What do Enterprise Rent-a-Car, KeyBank, and the Cleveland Clinic have in common?

They all make customer (patient) satisfaction a top priority.

They accomplish this in industry-specific ways, but together their emphasis on service as a passion shares common themes:

1. Buy-in for a service culture comes straight from the top, and permeates the entire organization.
2. Copious resources are delegated to building a service culture, starting with hiring.
3. Employees are “hired for fit.” If a prospective employee doesn’t radiate service, they are re-directed.
4. Employees are brought into a culture that leads to their growth, values their opinions, and develops their leadership potential.

Andy Taylor, CEO of Enterprise Holdings, inherited the business from his father Jack, and has built it into a mega-brand. Enterprise currently manages the largest fleet of cars and is the single largest purchaser of vehicles in the United States.

He attributes the company’s growth and his own success to the service principles he inherited from his father. Managers at Enterprise are not promoted unless the get “top box” scores on customer service questionnaires (i.e. a 5 on 5-scale), even if they run their branch at a financial profit.

Enterprise trains its employees to “go after loose balls” as a matter of principle. When a customer comes in at lunch, for example, clerks will jump up to help and literally compete for the chance to serve the customer. At the recent Summit on Patient Experience at the Cleveland Clinic, Taylor told of one branch manager who alerted 9-1-1 when a customer fainted in the parking lot, and rode along with the ambulance to the hospital until the patient was stabilized and the family arrived.

That type of service excellence is de rigeur at Enterprise, according to Mr. Taylor.

In a time of tremendous uncertainty and lessening of public opinion in the banking industry, KeyBank has reaffirmed its promise to deliver top-level customer service.

KeyBank is the fourteenth largest commercial bank in the U.S. Beth Mooney, Vice-Chair at KeyCorp, explained that though polling data shows a loss of trust in the banking sector, poll respondents still implicitly trust individual bank tellers.

Mooney attributes this to the fact that KeyBank carefully screens employees for their customer friendliness proclivities. New hires are trained on sophisticated simulators that teach front-end employees how to handle just about any situation.

It’s not a coincidence that as a director on the Cleveland Clinic’s board, Ms. Mooney chairs the Patient Experience Committee, lending her insights from the business world to the world of health care.

In addition to careful hiring and a culture of service, these companies also make a concerted effort to recognize employees, both internally and externally. This creates a virtuous cycle of employees tooting each other’s horns to broadcast their service excellence to leadership and beyond.

Ms. Mooney related the story of a branch employee who helped an elderly couple with their finances for years. When the husband eventually died, the employee made sure to call the widow on Christmas morning, her first without her spouse.

When Ms. Mooney related this story to conference attendees, you could’ve heard a pin drop in the auditorium, after the collective audible gasps.

John Schumann is an internal medicine physician at the University of Chicago who blogs at GlassHospital.

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